Horror is one of the most well established genres in film. From the 1930ís classic Universal horror films like Frankenstein to modern classics audiences have always lined up for the opportunity to be scared. There is something about being able to feel the visceral fright while in the safety of the theater that grabs people. One of the latest entries into the fray is The Ring, an Americanization of the Japanese cult classic series Ringu. Basically the story line follows an urban myth of a video tape that depicts a nightmarish world. After viewing the tape the phone rings and exactly seven days later you die. The film opens on two teenage girls; Katie (Amber Tamblyn) and her best friend Becca (Rachael Bella) are having a sleepover. As it turns out Katie had seen this tape one week ago with her boyfriend. Her level of fright increases until Katie is found dead of a heart attack and Becca is committed to a mental institution. The circumstances of Katieís death seem unusual to her cousin Rachael (Naomi Watts) whose young son Aidan (David Dorfman) was very close to Katie and also apparently gifted with the ability to intuit events. Rachael notices that every one of the kids that where with Katie all died the same night at exactly 10pm. During the investigation Rachael sees the tape and gets the phone call. In fact, it seems like just about everyone gets a viewing of this demonic tape. Rachael is pushed now to find the origins of the tape solve the mystery and save her self and her loved ones. As horror flicks go itís not really a bad premise. It combines the popularity of urban mythology so popular today with an unfolding mystery. Itís also not bad an American remake of a foreign language film, something that is all too often the kiss of death for a film. The problem comes in with the overall lack of substance present. Itís a beautifully presented movie but the with all the exposition and back story revelations the audience is left in the lurch for answers as the lights come up. While sometimes itís good to leave the audience guessing in a film like this there is an emotional need for a sense of closure. The Japanese original dealt with this by coming out with no less than six sequels and prequels. I just felt that there was something a bit lacking when after several false endings the film actually concludes.
One trend that appears to be growing is getting excellent actors into horror films. This film is a case in point. Naomi Watts is fresh off the bizarre film Mulholland Drive. While there she had to hide most of what was going on here Watts is in the midst of a lot of exposition. This is typically hard for an actor, to present so much information to the audience while presenting their performance. Watts is a gifted actor and manages far better than most would have in this situation. She adds a lot to the character of Rachael. Sheís a busy investigative reporter, a single mother and finds herself reconnecting with the father of her son. A bit of audience attachment is lost as Rachael seemingly sacrifices some attention for her son in favor of her career. This apparent flaw actual made Rachael a more believable character since many women have to balance complete responsibility for their children with the demands of work, and few are perfect at it. Martin Henderson, as the little boyís cyber geek father was not given a whole lot to work with. His character seems to be there for some technical exposition and as an emotional focus for Wattís performance. The real breakout here is young David Dofman as Aidan. While many may see his performance as an attempt to covet the performance of Haley Joel Osment in the Sixth Sense, this young actor has screen presence and can more than handle the arduous task required in this film.
Director Gore Verbinski has some notable entries to his resume. Not only did he direct Julia Roberts and Bard Pitt in the Mexican and Nathan Lane in Mouse Hunt he created the infamous Budweiser frogs. In The Ring he did sacrifice some substance in favor of style but the visual presentation of the film comes across as nearly flawless. For one thing the color palette is controlled better than most films today. There are shifts in the color balance used to emphasize and enhance the mood, not as the only thing around to create it. All too many directors use color pushes too often with the overall effect of boring the audience. This is not the case here. The lighting sets a moody atmosphere that helps you to forget the flaws of the film and holds your attention. Each scene is beautifully framed; this is an excellent example of why a film should be seen in its original aspect ratio. Images are presented as a mixture of the brutally real juxtaposed with the completely surreal.
The disc is well mastered. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is usually clear but there were some edge enhancements noticeable, especially in some of the many darker scenes. As stated above the color balance, tone and chroma were exceptionally well done. The audio mix was a bit lacking. While the front speakers presented nice separation the rear speakers came to life only for some ambience and emphasis not as an overall integrate part of the film. The sub woofer was under utilized, something very rare for a horror film today. The DTS soundtrack was a bit more robust than the Dolby overall. The two main extras are labeled ĎLook Hereí and ĎDonít Watch Thisí. The ĎLook Hereí section is little more than trailers. The ĎDonít Watch Thisí section pulls together deleted scenes with included scenes in a presentation that is supposed to help in understanding the movie. It is typically a bad sign when you need a supplement to know what is going on with the film you just watched. Over all this is a good weekend film to watch with your friends on a stormy Friday night. While not destined to become a classic it delivers on an emotional if not intellectual level. Not a bad thing but the film does fail to reach the potential it could have.